Great Rides

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September 7, 2013

Support


Attracting Tourists

One of the big differences between non-competitive and competitive cycling events is in how you get the word out and attract participants. An event like Tulsa Tough has to bring in all kinds of riders from professional and club racers to fast, long-distance tour riders to average pedestrian riders of all sizes and abilities. The races provide the show. The rides provide the sustenance.

Racers are licensed and have a central governing body. They’re in an available database and they come for cash. We’ve been very successful attracting racers from all over the world with our large purse and world class races. Tulsa Tough is fast becoming one of the premier events in the U.S.

But riders come from everywhere. They have no license, no central government, no regulations and no barriers to participation. They ride for fun, fitness, accomplishment, to cure a disease, to be part of a social group, to lose weight, to tour the world, to go to the grocery store or to simply be outdoors. They ride alone and in groups. For many, riding isn’t the primary motivation but rather a means to many diverse goals.

So how do you find and attract non-competitive riders?

You do it slowly by producing a quality event that has what appeals to as many of those riders as possible. Most important is that you provide a quality experience for every rider from their first awareness, to registration, to parking, packets, starting, finishing, supporting and engaging the riders after the event.

Do that and then get to work on grassroots, networking, word-of-mouth, and using the media in as many places as possible where you suspect they might be found.

Once you reach them and get them there, you have to deliver the quality experience they want so that the networking, word-of-mouth cycle continues and expands.

Getting Organized

Our goal at Tulsa Tough is to grow the rides to a sustainable level. Sustainable means participant numbers we can sustain over the long haul by creating touring rides people want to come back to and recommend. It also means growing ride participation to numbers that give us a strong income base to sustain the whole event.

Whether or not we ever become the biggest, I want us to be the best.

Here are the ride rock stars who are making it happen:

Jim Beach – Rides Director, Routes and Ride Timing Coordinator

Beth Delametter – Volunteer Coordinator

Glen Mulready – Rest Stop Site Coordinator

Scott Cooksey – Rest Stop Site Coordinator

Paul Wood – Rest Stop Supplies Coordinator

Marvin Lee – Rest Stop Supplies Coordinator

Kristin Bunch – Ride Finish Venue Coordinator

Helen Pals – Food and Drink Coordinator

Jerry Weikel – SAG Coordinator

Jay Eimer – Route Communications Coordinator

September Brown – Medical Coordinator

Michael Schooling – Mechanical Coordinator

Tonja Pitzer – Registration Coordinator

Whitney Miller – TSC Ride Liaison – Tough Teams & Awards Fulfillment

Jessica White – Tough Teams Coordinator

Randy Branstetter – Awards Fulfillment Coordinator

Not naturally a team player

I’ve always been better at doing it myself than delegating and managing. I guess that’s how I was taught. Not because that was the intentional lesson but that’s how my parents did it and theirs before them. But the Tulsa Tough Rides are way too big for that. It has to be a team effort.

The first year I had my hand in every single aspect and did a big chunk of the work on just about everything related to the rides. There were several people lending a big hand, but I needed to be in the middle of it all because I was creating as I went. That worked okay the first year but it’s not sustainable for very long. I plan to be around this thing for a while and I have to keep my relationships and my paying job while doing it.

The beginnings of a ride committee formed in years 2 and 3. This is year 4 and I am really happy to have a committee of 15 or so people who are coming to own a piece of the rides. They are enthusiastic, creative, and smart. The whole event will benefit from their efforts because all the parts will be as good as they can be, rather than only as good as I have time for. I get to keep refining the vision and concepts. I get to reach out to the communities we touch over 400 miles of tour routes in four counties. And I get to leave my comfort zone and try to manage everyone’s efforts so it all works together.

Now that the committee is in place, my job is to learn how to communicate better, provide what they need to do their jobs and not stand in the way of their progress. I also have to work on the things I can control and let go of those I can’t. It’s a big transition year for the rides and another growth year for me.

What’s a SAG?

SAG stands for Support And Gear. It usually refers to one of the cars that follows riders with emergency first aid, tools, food, water, and ice. It can also mean the truck that carries your bicycle while you ride the bus or the vehicle that carries your luggage from campsite to campsite on multi-day tours.

At DAM J.A.M. the SAG drivers are constantly communicating the whereabouts of our riders. We drive up and down the routes looking for guests who need help and trying to keep track of where the leaders and the back-of-the-packers are. This way we pretty much know where everyone is throughout the day and we can let the rest stops know when the last rider is through and they can close.

SAG is not a substitute for lack of preparation or training. SAG drivers are not there to fix a flat tire or carry someone that is just a little tired. Consider them only as a “safety net”. But your safety is vitally important to us. We think about it a lot. We’ll never leave you to flounder on the side of the road.

At the same time we value self-sufficiency. There’s something about bicyclers that makes us want to be able to do for ourselves. For sure, you should know how to fix a flat. It’s also a confidence booster if you can perform minor road-side repairs. Always carry a spare tube and some appropriate tools. Even if you can’t use them, there is probably someone nearby that can.

We also think it’s healthy to push yourself a little. Pick a route that’s just a little harder than you’ve done before, then prepare for the distance you sign up to ride. As they say, take all you want but eat all you take.

Good bicycle route marking

I put this on the DAM J.A.M. website about 2001. It’s still solid advice.

There’s really no excuse for poorly marked routes on bicycle events. All you really have to do is imagine what people are experiencing as they approach decision points on a bike ride and then do what it takes to remove the uncertainty. We don’t do it perfectly but we think it’s important and we work hard at it.

This may seem simple enough but it’s an important detail that very often gets neglected. I go on about this subject for a while here. If you don’t read it all, at least remember these things next time you mark a route:

  1. In three seconds, a bicycle traveling 15 miles per hour will go 66 feet; at 25 mph – 110 feet. It takes a few seconds for a rider to see, process, and react to your directional arrows.
  2. Consider how fast your guests will be riding. Put yourself in the event. Assume they have no idea where you want them to go.
  3. Put your LAST warning mark at least 50-60 feet (20-25 long paces) before any feature that requires riders to make a decision (intersections, mainly).
  4. Give riders at least two warnings before an intersection, three or more if there’s something unusual about it like highways, turns at the bottom of hills, blind corners, etc. Give them one mark on the other side so they know they’re on the right path.
  5. Make your marks at least 150 feet apart (50 long paces).
  6. Use the same color, style, and size for every single mark you put on the road.
  7. If you must hide them discretely on the edge of the pavement, put ALL of them there so your riders get used to looking in the same place.
  8. Be consistent. Think like a rider at speed. Think about what it feels like to be there. Be considerate and thoughtful.

If you come to our party, we want you to enjoy yourself. Proper route markings are pretty basic.

When you’re riding your bike at 16-20 mph with friends on a cool fall day and you see an intersection ahead, you should be confident that you’ll be advised what to do and have plenty of time to do it, that you’ll be warned about potential hazards, and that when you pass the intersection you know you’re still going the right way.

But we’re not your Mama.

You have to use common sense and obey traffic laws and watch out for your own safety. After all, we’re talking about sharing open public roads with bigger, faster, heavier vehicles. No amount of excellent route marking can save you from yourself.

All I’m saying is that if I design a route and organize a bike ride and you agree to come ride it, I at least owe you directions that will help and not hinder.

Road Painter, painting.In all riding situations, it literally takes several seconds to see a mark, recognize it, process what it’s telling you, prepare and take action. In those few seconds of brain work, you can travel quite a distance at normal bicycle speeds. If you’re looking around, talking to friends, or day dreaming while you’re riding, you might miss the directions.

There should be at least two or three marks, placed well apart and well before any place there’s an unknown hazard ahead or anywhere you have to do something different than just cruising along.

I rode a century in 1999 that ended in near disaster. There was a 90 degree left at the bottom of a long fast downhill. There wasn’t much roll-out room before the turn and there was only one warning a couple hundred feet before it. As we started down the hill, we left the cover of forest and came into the open.

There was a nice two-lane road straight out in front of us with no apparent obstacles and plenty of room to coast. We were in the middle of nowhere, no signs, just open pasture and endless barbed wire, so we relaxed and picked up speed as we pedaled down the hill.

Just before the crash, we saw a single turn mark flash by. We were still trying to process the instructions as the intersection popped out from behind the weeds. I was lucky enough to be a bit ahead of my two riding companions so I saw the mark before they did. I barely got through the turn unscathed. But right behind me my friends collided with each other in the confusion and went down hard. They added a significant epidermis to the tarmac and Bruce’s century came to a screaming halt. He sat out the next 10 weeks while his shoulder grew back together.

This was UNNECESSARY and INEXCUSABLE!

In this fast downhill situation, you have to remember that most people are paying close attention to the road in front of them watching for holes, bumps or debris. They’re a little more tense than when cruising on flat ground and their view is closer in than when they’re relaxed. They need multiple warnings beginning way up the hill so they know to be looking for the turn. If there’s a turn coming, and they know it, they’ll approach the downhill differently than if they think they can just let ‘er rip.

DAM J.A.M. has a lot of hills. In several cases, they’re long and winding and you have to change directions or slow down at the bottom. We always try to start warning you way farther in advance than most people might think is necessary. From our own experiences touring, racing and planning, we like to think we’ve developed a knack for where and how many marks the average rider will need to have a safe ride.

Consistency is the other most important thing.

Decide how you’re going to make your arrows and make them the same way every time. Decide what you’re going to write, if anything, and write it the same way every time. Decide where your arrows are going be in relation to what you write and put them the same place every time. Put your marks in the same basic position on the road and always put them where your riders are likely to be looking. Always use the same color of paint…every time.

After the first year we decided it would be more consistent to use a stencil and put “DAM J.A.M.” next to every arrow. We started with a piece of cardboard and cut out the letters. It worked great except we soon realized that every mark leaves a layer of paint on the stencil, as well as the road. It took about 10 marks before the letters began to fill with paint and the stencil was useless. It took a very long time to paint the roads that year.

The next year I got some sheet metal flashing at the hardware store. I made the word “DAM J.A.M.” as large as I could on the computer and printed it in landscape mode on a legal size piece of paper. Then I cut out the letters with a razor knife and traced them onto the sheet metal with a Sharpie. And finally I cut them out with a Dremel Tool. I nailed a 1×2 board to the top and bottom of the stencil and put a piece of electrical wire on each end of the bottom piece of wood for a handle. Works great and lasts about 5 years of marking.

I use a large foil roasting pan to carry the stencil, along with a spatula and a small paring knife to scrape it clean. We have to stop for a cleaning about every hour or so, and that takes a good 15 minutes each time. It’s a whole lot faster if I spray it with cooking spray after each scraping and before I paint through it again.

It takes about 28 cans of upside-down marking paint and about 30 hours over two weekends to mark all four routes. It’s well worth the trouble because our route markings have a very consistent look and are easy to spot from a distance. We get compliments.

That’s about all I can tell you about that, and way more than you wanted to know. But the beauty is in the details. Go back to the top and read the eight rules before you begin marking your next route. If you ride another tour and the marks are bad, don’t hesitate to tell the management and send them a link to this page.

Thanks for letting me rant.

Our First Time

This is the story I posted on damjambicycletour.com in 2000 or 2001 about how DAM J.A.M. got its start. I had no idea that simple day would lead where it has. All we meant to do was put on a bike ride people might enjoy. We never meant to do it again the next year. It’s been quite a few years now and DAM J.A.M. has become one of the favorites of Northeast Oklahoma cyclists, and I’ve become a Road Painter.

It was early summer 1992. Marie and I were talking with Allen about finding a way to ride to Grand Lake to visit Dana at his lake home. We were just three people who liked to ride, but we didn’t have much experience with organized bicycling. We weren’t plugged in to the local touring groups. We didn’t know many of the familiar Tulsa area routes and had no idea what it meant to ride all day long. But we thought it’d be a cool weekend trip. So I got out the maps and did what I do. (I’m the resident geek. I do maps and websites, among other things that aren’t much fun to talk about at parties.)

I pored over my USGS Quads and found what looked like a good loop from Pryor to Disney and back. I copied it and highlighted the route and off we went one summer Saturday morning. The plan was to ride this loop as a test, then go back to the maps and find the way to Pryor, starting from Tulsa.

We drove to Pryor and parked at a convenience store. After unloading our bikes we took off, knowing not for sure where. It was a little slow going at first. We headed down what looked like viable roads on the USGS map, but turned out to be paving-turned-gravel, sometimes after we’d gone a mile or two along the way. We had a couple of false starts like that until we finally got the rhythm.

The ride up to Grand Lake was fabulous. We had no idea about some of these roads. It seemed like every turn led to another smooth, sweeping, satisfyingly car-less road. They were meant for bicycling. The sights were beautiful and there were lakes and dams visible many times along the way. We traveled down Indian Springs Road and into the State Park in Spavinaw. That was one of several bonuses that day.

We made it up to Grand Lake about lunchtime, ate at a cafe near Pensacola Dam, and headed back. (I have a side story about eating at that same restaurant several years later while marking the route for DAM J.A.M. I won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say we haven’t been back. I’m sure it was just a fluke. I’d encourage everyone to enjoy any of the fine restaurants along our tour. I’m just not fond of being on my knees in roadside ditches on a hot Labor Day afternoon.)

Anyway, on the way back we had a fine ride across the Grand River, and into Strang. It was a hot mid-afternoon, and lunch was heavy. There’s something about not knowing how much farther you have to go that adds anxiety to the tiredness. Some of us were getting a little cranky. So we stopped in Strang to ask about the shortest way to Pryor. It was pretty quiet in this little town but we found a couple of very nice folks that didn’t laugh at our lycra. They told us to keep heading west out of town and go across the old bridge. Then a couple more miles we’d find Waterline Road. Follow that till you get to the end then follow the section lines west into Pryor. Sounded easy enough.

Somewhere along Waterline Road we started feeling confident and rejuvenated, knowing we were nearly finished. We stopped for a break and marveled at “our discovery”. (Of course hundreds of bike riders already knew about a lot of this. Many of these roads have been used on various Freewheel routes over the years.) But we were full of naive excitement. We felt like pioneers.

While we were congratulating ourselves, the idea was born to make this into a tour and share it with others. During our giddy little brainstorm session, we sounded like new parents talking about names. We knew we wanted to use the word dam because of the obvious connection to the lakes. And we were egotistical enough to want our names in it.

Finally, after several silly ideas I said, “Do you realize that if we used our initials in it, we could spell…” But before I could finish, we all knew. Out of Jim, Allen, and Marie we could make JAM. And that rhymes with dam and when you put those two together you get damjam. We’re jammin’ at the dams!!!

Are you ever awed by your own brilliance? Yeah, me too.

Anyway, that’s how DAM J.A.M. was born.

But there’s more…

I think it was only three years later that Allen moved on to other things. After he quit, Marie and I continued to direct the tour and we decided to change the name. Of course it’s still called DAM J.A.M. But really it’s very different, because now it means Jim And Marie.

It’s much better this way.